by Doug Ireland
My pal Ron was laughing, through the pain.
He was aggravated. Disappointed. Mortified, even.
A guy who was in the stands in Shreveport, in August 55 years ago, when the Saints staged their first exhibition game. A guy who has 29 different Saints jerseys. A guy who considers Drew Brees a half-step shy of deity status.
Rational, he’s not. Distraught over a last-minute New Orleans exhibition game defeat, he was. Just to fill out your mental image, yes, he was wearing one of those Saints jerseys. And a cap.
His pontoon boat in Natchitoches is “The Who Dat.”
I tried to console Pal Ron by reminding him of the Saints’ exhibition game record when they won the Super Bowl. It was perfect. Four games, four losses. The regular season began, and they won 13 straight. They lost the last three going into the playoffs, but that was with lots of front-line players resting.
Just like exhibition season this year.
Pal Ron’s devotion to the Black and Gold is high level but not reaching irrational status. Those folks are out there and not hard to find. You may look no further than your mirror, or over on the sofa where your spousal unit or significant other is curled up in a logoed blanket. It’s the level of passion that fans and family reach, cheering for their favorite players, coaches and/or teams.
It’s not just the teams. It’s the bands, the dance lines, the cheer squads, the pom-pom crew (used to be able to say girls but … this is 2022).
Band Momma and Dance Line Dad can be just as immersed in watching their loved ones do their thing as the grandparents of the starting center, or the third-team cornerback. And that’s all good, and right.
It’s the beauty of sports. We love. We love the players and coaches and trainers and equipment managers and staff members we know, and we almost live and die with their highs and lows every time they take the field/court.
Or we love the institution, the franchise, the brand. We immerse ourselves in the Saints, in LSU, in Alexandria Senior High, in the Bunkie Panthers, the Menard Eagles, the Peabody War Horses … like the state tourism slogan used to say, “pick your passion.”
We buy little cheerleader uniforms for the precious preschool girls. We swaddle our babies in team-logoed blankets. When a fresh look pops loose on team gear, hats, shirts, jackets, sweatshirts and such, we hit the ‘purchase’ button online, or we queue up at the stadium gift shop or table, or we browse the aisles of sporting goods stores or Wally World, and fork over enough money to buy more than one tank of gas. No small expense!
My Pittsburgh Pirates T-shirts and caps don’t see a lot of daylight. Haven’t in far too long, except for on Roberto Clemente’s birthday, or when the Buccos beat the Dodgers. (They DID somehow manage to win the series with LA this summer, while also making more MLB blooper reels than usual).
I have lots of NSU Demons gear – too much, actually, and most of it aging. I worked there for 30 years, I graduated from there, I have friends coaching there. I send a not-small amount of my money there.
It’s been too long since Demon football has been what it was when Alexandria’s Craig Nall left LSU and led NSU to an overtime win at bowl-bound TCU, and the FCS playoffs. That 2001 team was fierce – narrowly losing at Montana in the playoffs in a matchup that Grizzlies coach Joe Glenn said was by far the most difficult hurdle on their road to the national championship. Imagine how much better Northwestern would have been if all-time leading rusher Tony Taylor, the former Pineville Rebels superstar, hadn’t chosen to go pro after his junior year in 2000, degree in hand, spouse and two children to support. (Taylor, by the way, is now Dr. Taylor, an educator in Texas, and has a Super Bowl ring he received as a member of the 2003 Tampa Bay Bucs).
This year’s Demons opened their season flying up to Missoula for roughly $270,000 and a shot at the No. 3 team in the FCS rankings, a real national championship contender. Fifth-year head coach Brad Laird and his troops embraced the opportunity. That’s what competitors do.
And that’s partly why fans are who they are. This time of year, everybody has hope. The conference season is just ahead, and there’s a chance at a championship if all the ducks get in a row.
So you’re telling me there’s a chance?
That’s all I needed to hear.
After all, pigs flew, and the Saints DID win a Super Bowl.
Photos courtesy of NSU Sports Information.